Herdsmen And Grazing Rights - Dr Newton Jibunoh

In my last discussion on the Series of The Menace of the Herdsmen, I examined the origin of the southward migration of the Fulani shepherds in Nigeria, the coming of the militia now known as the Fulani Herdsmen, the roles of the owners of the herds of animals and the security agencies in enabling or combating the surge in violence that is threatening to engulf our nation in ethnic wars. As I said before, war is not an option, can never be an option; war should be discountenanced by all well-meaning nationalists and peace-loving Nigerians.

As an octogenarian, I owe it to Nigerians to seek for peace. I would hope that the authorities would genuinely seek for lasting solutions to this problem. Inflammatory rhetoric will not help. The recent statements attributed to the President, for Nigerians to accommodate one another did not go far enough and failed to pacify the aggrieved. My heart bleeds for those that have lost their loved ones and those whose farmlands and communities have been ravaged. The statement credited to the Inspector General of Police that thinks the nation is witnessing clashes between farmers and herdsmen, suggest that this individual that is supposed to guarantee the security of lives and properties in Nigeria either does not have the capacity to execute his constitutional mandate or is trying to be clever by half. Such statements have rightly incensed the Governor of Benue State who has accused the police of duplicity. The call by the Governor for the resignation of the IG on the other hand, is a bit high handed. I wonder if the Governor had exhausted all communication channels available for him to reach the IG and Mr. President before publicly calling for the former’s resignation. I would therefore, like to extend an invitation to the Governor and the IG to be my guests in my village farm home, so I can make peace between them.

Equally of prime importance is the recognition of the dire times we are in. This is not the time to trivialize this problem. It is an irony of facts that within the abhorrent rhetoric lies some basic truths. The so-called clash between farmers and herdsmen is not merely a clash, it is also the wanton and deliberate destruction of a business, the taking of lives in the community, the devastation of families, and occupation. It is good to remember that the farmers are engaged in their own private business, farming within their own real estate. The herdsmen are also engaged in their own private business of animal husbandry, but in another man’s real estate, having been forced to abandon their own lands by desertification. Herein lies the crux of the matter. To refuse to recognize these facts is disingenuous, unjust, and being in denial. The wanton destruction of lives and property has been the bane of the Nigerian culture since the amalgamation. And the consistent choice of the authorities to look the other way only serves to embolden the next militia. This is not leadership, when you do not hold people accountable for their actions and atrocities.

Another consequence of our general insincerity to governance is that it renders government’s palliative attempts at solving problems intractable and colossal failures. This is because with the obvious seeming favouritism associated with the dispensation of justice and essentially lack of it, the operators and managers of such noteworthy projects have little incentives to drive for success. This phenomenon in conjunction with mediocrity accounts for the failures of all reforestation and desert combating programmes initiated in the country since the 1960s.

The solution to the problems of the Fulani Herdsmen should be looked at in two-folds.

  1. Short-Term Measures

In this portfolio, we must consider and embark on;

  • The immediate disarming of the herdsmen militia.  The shepherds know who they are, and so do their employers. The equipment of death that they wield are military in design and use. Only the military are trained to handle such. These are not needed to herd animals.
  • An immediate cessation to the practice of cattle grazing or trampling of farmlands. The cows should be muzzled as they pass by farmlands. These I have seen in some parts of northern Nigeria, Mauritania, and Niger. The host government should make immediate payment of compensation to any farmer whose crops have been grazed or trampled on and extract such payment from the shepherds.
  • No new shepherds should be received into the states from other states. Those already there should be given a temporary 2 year right of abode pending voluntary return to their states of origin or primary farming location. It is hoped that within this period, the greening of the devastated farmlands through the establishment of grazing fields discussed below would have begun to yield some positive results.
  • The host states shall lease from the community the lands on which the shepherds and their cattle reside. The tenant shepherd shall pay rent to the government.
  • At the end of 2 years the shepherd must relocate to his indigenous home or that of his employer, or have his right of abode renewed for another 2 years maximum if his indigenous home or Employer is unable to accommodate him at that point in time.
  • No residence permit shall be renewed more than twice. Unknown to some of us, the Fulani shepherds do not want to be urbanized. So they really have no interest in remaining in the urban centres.
  • If a shepherd desires to a long stay in any particular location, he must enter into a long-term lease with the Community, and pen his animals in a ranch. There shall be no free-range animal husbandry involving the Fulani herdsmen or any other farmer.
  1. Medium and Long-Term Measures
  • In the medium and long term, we must return greenery to those states devastated by desertification, gully erosion, and drought. It is important for all Nigerians to realize that animal husbandry is a business and it is private. The government of any type has no more interest in the performance of this business than they have with that of any farmer or a trader or a mason. However due to the genesis of the loss of farmlands and greenery due to desertification and drought, the Federal and State Governments can declare a State of Emergency in such zones. This will enable the Governments to offer financial and technical assistance to the farmers in their quest to return greenery to their farms and grazing fields.
  • The first milestone to aim for shall be the establishment of grazing fields in the impacted states. To do this we must also create water bodies by these locations both to nurture the grazing fields and for consumption by the animals. The investment costs can be borne by the Governments fully at this stage. However, the owners of the animals who graze there shall be made to pay for feeding and watering their animals.
  • While these water bodies and green fields are being established trees to serve as windbreakers will be planted on the windward sides to push back sand dunes accumulation.
  • If well managed in four years, the grazing fields will mature.
  • The long-term plan involves the establishment of ranches by the animal owners in the same way the government has established the grazing fields. It is the responsibility of the farmers to pen their animals. Domestic animals are not supposed to be free-rangers. Meat production is private business that should be governed by applicable laws and statutes of the States and the Federal Government.


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